Odyssey of a golfer: My quest to play America's top 100 public courses
Shortly after taking up golf, I realized that I would never be good enough to win golf tournaments. But this Type A gal needed a golf goal. Moreover, a four-day-per-week travel schedule over the last 20 years had taken its toll and I was rapidly approaching burnout.
I had a "Eureka" moment when my monthly Golf Magazine arrived. “The Nation’s Best 100 Public Golf Courses: How Many Can You Play?”, the headline asked enticingly.
I quickly plopped down $100 and bought Golf Magazine’s wooden plaque with 100 pegs so that I could “peg” the courses listed, once played. Buying the plaque was the first step to what turned out to be a six-year odyssey of great golf, anticipation of business trips, and pure insanity.
The thing you need to know about playing the top 100 public courses is that they are scattered over 40 states (none for Alaska and South Dakota) and many are hours away from a major metropolitan area, e.g., an airport.
My business life had a new spring in its step. When my colleagues groaned about a Miami interview in August, I volunteered to go, quickly making a tee time at Doral's Blue Monster (rank number 29) for 7 on a Saturday morning after my Friday interview.
Many magical and strange incidents occurred during my odyssey. I secured a coveted tee time at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, scene of the Junior World Golf Championship as well as the Buick Championship. My husband (another truly bad golfer) and I arrived early for our tee time and, after 15 minutes of practicing, sat on a park bench near the first tee as groups were teeing off, hoping we could tee off early. We saw two teenagers tee off alone and decided to join them. The young men seemed surprised at the invitation but shrugged their shoulders.
Our first hint of trouble appeared as we reached the third hole and noticed a large crowd following our foursome, several with walkie talkies and USGA golf badges. Finally, one woman approached me and barked, “What are you doing here?”
“We saw a twosome and figured we could join them," I said.
“Do you realize that this is the final practice round for the Junior World Golf tournament?” she snapped. (This is the one Tiger Woods won 20 years ago.)
But by this time there was no turning back as we were in the middle of the golf course.
I heard these overly serious officials whispering on their walkie talkies ,“What do we do with these people? They’re playing with the Number 1 junior golfer in Asia!”
“We are good emissaries for the USA and can make these golfers from the Philippines and Malaysia feel very welcome here," I sheepishly replied.
It was an uncomfortable round of golf and none of the crowd gave us so much as one clap for any of our shots. We could not get off the course fast enough.
After six years of plugging away, a course here, a course there, I only lacked 22 courses to complete the Top 100, a rare feat. I became an obsessed mad woman.The small wooden peg board was replaced with a 4’ X 6’ map of the US with big “X”s marking the courses I still had to play.
Whereas before I could rope a client or my business partner into joining me, given the location of the remaining 22 courses, I was clearly on my own. Fortunately, my husband was working in Europe and my weekends were free, so I was soon making reservations to far off places such as Piñon Hills Golf Course in Four Corners, New Mexico. (For those interested, you fly to Albuquerque and drive three hours through the desert.)
One Memorial Day weekend, I flew to Grand Rapids and drove 50 miles to play Tullymore in Stanwood, Mich., drove 118 miles to Forest Dunes in Roscommon, and another 28 miles to The Gailes in Oscoda, before catching a flight home from Detroit less than 48 hours later.
The coveted jewel of The Top 100 list was Bethpage Black in Long Island, N.Y. For you non-golfers, Bethpage Black is one of the hardest golf courses in the country, both to get on and to play. People literally sleep in their cars to get tee times. A small loophole allows out-of-state residents to play if you win a phone-in lottery. My staff, who was very weary of my golf odyssey by that time, was more than eager to see me reach my goal.
At the appointed hour, all 20 employees called in for a tee time. Bingo!
When I arrived at the course (it is 40 miles outside of New York City and the only way to get there is by private car), I had a sense of foreboding. I noticed there were no other women on the grounds and said to the club manager, “Wow, I don’t see any women.”
“We had one play two weeks ago!” he said.
The course is hilly with no golf carts or caddies. To top it off, my playing partners (whom I did not know) were near-pro golfers. I had to hit two to three shots for every shot they hit, and run (with clubs) to keep up with them.
Oh yes, did I mention there were no women’s tees, so I had to play from the men’s tees?
After three holes of sheer humiliation, I decided I would never come back or be asked back. It turned into a delightful experience if you consider shooting 114 “delightful!”
I did complete all 100 courses with the last one being Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla., courtesy of some friends who wanted to be with me when I played my hundredth course.
By that time, Golf Magazine had heard the story of the crazy woman with a goal and their peg board. I was featured in the August 2006 issue.
One thing I learned from almost every course I played is that women do not typically show up at a strange course alone to play golf, yet alone, courses 1,500 miles from home.
But after all is said and done, it is not the number of courses you play or even how you play. The real beauty of golf is time in nature, the friends you make, the friends you keep, and, for me, the simplicity of a woman with a stick chasing a ball — course after course.